Ironman Training, Race Reports, Triathlon

Ironman Canada Race Report Part 2

Here, it is, the second part. Read about the lead up to the race in Part 1

It felt as though I had barely crawled into bed as my alarm chirped its 4am wake up call. The morning was overcast and cold and the wet ground indicated it had already been raining. We had decided not to take the complimentary shuttles, opting to avoid the containers of nervous energy and rather, walk to the start. However the walk took us longer than we had anticipated leaving us rushing into transition with little time to spare. This was good and bad (at least for me). Bad, because I was now in a rush to return the food items to my bag and do any last minute checks on my equipment before my usual struggle to don my wetsuit. Good, because I had no time to worry about excessively about anything prior to stepping into the water. As a last minute decision I put a long sleeve top into my T1 bag, a decision that world prove fortuitous

We stepped into the cold water and stood looking out over the lake in silence. Presently, the National Anthem began playing over the loud speakers. As we listened, the rain began to fall. And that was to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The swim was a double loop, and the course was crowded. I tried to focus on keeping a consistent stroke. It felt like forever, but at last I made my final turn towards the beach and T1. I was being hit by waves coming at me from the side, I couldn’t figure out how I hadn’t noticed this choppiness before. Confused, I battled my way to the beach. (Later, spectators would confirm that the wind did indeed kick up, just before I exited the water). As I ran out of the water, I started to undo my wetsuit, the competitive sprinter in me taking over for a moment. Of course, the few seconds I was saving here would be a drop in the ocean compared to the 15 hours I expected to spend out on the course that day, but ‘old habits dies hard’. I had never been at a race with wetsuit strippers before and I didn’t know what I was missing! I sat on the ground and a second later they had yanked my wetsuit off and handed it back to me.

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“Wow, that was easy!” I thought as I jogged towards the change tent. (I know, I was supposed to be ‘walking with purpose’, what can I say? I was caught up in the moment…)

Inside the change tent, I found an empty spot, tipped out my bag and hurriedly got changed. I had opted to wear my bathing suit on the swim, and then change completely in T1. A helpful volunteer held out the late addition sweater and asked if I wanted to wear it, I gave it one more second of consideration and decided that yes, I would. I slipped it on, followed it with the waterproof jacket and headed out to my bike. I jogged past the sunscreen station, (not doing a roaring trade given the weather) and headed to the bike racks.

I almost ran right past my bike and had to crawl under the rack to get to it. I left T1 laughing to myself. The rain was really heavy as I mounted my bike and headed off towards Callaghan. I was passing a lot of people early on, it was almost impossible, with the bulk of riders to keep out of the draft zones, I just concentrated on making constant forward progress. I was concerned I might be going too fast, but a check of my heart rate confirmed that I was fine. I was cold, and very glad that I had worn the sweater after all.

This part of the course is a steep hill (and the location for the Olympic ski jumps, if confirmation of the gradient were required). I settled into my easiest gear and started the long grind uphill. Part way up, during a gear change, my chain came off and jammed my pedals. I wobbled alarmingly for a second as I desperately tried to unclip a foot and stand. This would not be a good time to have my first clipped in fall! Thankfully, just in the nick of time, I was able to put my foot down, climb off my bike and fix the situation.

Crisis averted. That would have been embarrassing!

Now I just had to get going again on this steep hill. A couple of false starts later and I was again on the move, albeit slowly. The remainder of the climb was uneventful and I reached the turnaround at the top feeling good. I had counted on taking advantage of a good dose of ‘free’ speed on the downhill, however, the rain had put paid to that idea. The water ran in rivulets across the road and the fabric of my jacket snapped in the wind, making the descent quite terrifying.

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The course then rejoined the highway and I continued on the long descent towards Pemberton. The monotony was broken by regular aid stations stocking water, Gatorade, energy gels and bananas. My nutrition plan called for me refilling my water and also eating bananas. Volunteers were lined up along the road with various offerings. I slowed a little and reached out to grab a water bottle as I rode by. Success.

My knees were aching – which I put down to the temperature, which I later found out was under 10 degrees Celsius. On top of that, all of the muscles in my neck and shoulders were screaming, probably also due to my tensing up in the cold. I finally made it to the Pemberton turn. This meant a 40km flat out and back before heading back up that long hill to Whistler. Just as we started the out and back, we passed our special needs bags. I made a snap decision that I would not stop. I hadn’t had a flat, so I didn’t need the spare tube, and I was feeling pretty good and thought I could manage without the extra nutrition items – even my beloved Ribena.

I really wanted to make up some time here, but more importantly at that moment I really wanted to use the bathroom! At the next aid station (which typically took forever to arrive) I stopped my bike and joined the queue (of course). I took the opportunity to stretch a little, which elicited a very satisfying crack from my neck. A few minutes later, I was on my way again. The ride now seemed to be going quite well and I was enjoying it. Until, that is, I reached the turnaround.

“That’s why it felt so good!” I thought to myself, as I pedalled against the headwind on the return journey. I was feeling very sleepy by this time, struggling to keep my eyes open. Luckily I had experienced this in Oliver, had had come to Whistler prepared, so now I ripped open the tiny bag that I had stashed on my bike which contained some Tylenol and a caffeine pill.

Soon, I began to feel better, and as I left Pemberton behind, I finally managed to snag a banana from the aid station. Now, I just had to conquer that 30km climb back to Whistler (and then the little matter of a marathon, but let’s not think about that right now). The climb was long and slow, but I already knew I could do it, and I could see looking at my watch that I would be well within the cut-off.

The climb felt like forever, finally, to my great relief, I saw the sign for the village and the course veered off to the side. I had tears in my eyes when I finally saw the arch to T2. The bike cut-off had been my biggest fear throughout the year of training and this moment was arguably the biggest achievement of the day.

As I entered the change tent, Kay hailed me. I was briefly confused, as I expected her to be further ahead. Unfortunately, her race was not going to plan, mostly owing to the cold. I will forever be grateful for her enthusiastic encouragement, particularly given the difficulties she was facing.

Another wonderful volunteer came to help me change in T2. Unfortunately, though she was very patient and helpful, my mind was not in the right place to receive help. She was handing me things from my bag, but everything was in the wrong order. I couldn’t quite compute this change. Unfortunately, in the end, I ended up leaving transition without my water bottle.

“Never mind, there’s plenty of water stations on course”

Famous last words.

The first 5km of the run is a loop around Lost Lake, and it started very well. I was surprised how tight all of my muscles felt, probably a result of being tense on the bike. Even my biceps ached. Around 10km, I switched to a run-walk strategy. I ran between the aid stations, eating what I felt like from the selections available.

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Then, it happened. My ankle started hurting.

Ironically, not the ankle that less than a year ago had healed from a stress fracture. My left ankle had never given me trouble before, but now there was a stabbing pain.

If only I had some Tylenol. But it had been carefully stashed in the pocket of my water bottle. The same water bottle that I had accidentally left in T2.

I kept walking, but I was barely holding things together. Thank goodness, no-one was nice to me or I might have burst into tears. I couldn’t understand it. Yes, this was Ironman, I suppose I could be forgiven for being a bit emotional, but really? This just didn’t happen to me!

I marched on. I needed to keep moving as fast as I could. The kilometres ticked by so slowly. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the special needs bags and the long awaited painkillers. I stopped this time and drank the emergency bottle of Ribena. I closed my eyes. I could hear the voice of the announcer calling in finishers nearby. I felt so jealous of those athletes, already done for the day. I was at about 25km here, so there were another 17 to go. I had to keep moving – away from the finish.

I knew I could finish now, all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Actually I felt quite good, considering.

One foot in front of the other. That’s what I did for about the next three hours. Aid station to aid station. Kilometre marker to kilometre marker. Never in my life have kilometre markers seemed so far apart.

There was a blister on my foot now, I was sure. I didn’t look, how would that have helped? My ankle actually felt quite a bit better now, and I no longer felt like bursting into tears, so things were looking up.

I was hugely disappointed though as I realised that I could not make my goal of finishing in less than 15 hours. I really hadn’t been that invested in doing so before the race. It was more of a case of “wouldn’t it be amazing if I could”. As the day had gone on, however, it had become clear that I was capable of achieving that, though perhaps on a different day.

The sign said 5km to go.

“Great, I usually take about 30 minutes to do 5km”

This 5km took 41:24.

4km to go.

“Seriously? I’ve only covered 1km?”

I kept walking through the darkness.

3km. “3km is nothing”

2km. “Will this ever end”

I was striding along with another girl (whose name I don’t recall). We passed a sign saying 41km.

“1km to go” she commented.

1.2km, I corrected. We laughed about the 0.2km being our undoing.

Finally, the finish chute came into sight…and the course lead us on a small (was that 0.2km?) loop away into the village! Oh the cruelty!

Be strong!

Now we were heading for the finish.

The music was blaring, the lights were so bright. Suddenly this was it. The moment I had been training for all year…and waiting for all day!

Everyone was cheering. I closed my eyes; I wanted to remember this moment. I ran the last 100m down the chute, high-fiving total strangers as the words

“Alison, You Arrrrrrrre an IRONMAN!!” rang through the speakers.

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I almost couldn’t believe it.

Someone hung a medal around my neck and a volunteer steered me to pick up my finisher t-shirt and cap and pose for a picture.

Then, like a mirage, Kay appeared… with a slice of pizza!

Having completed her own race, she had waited for me at the finish line. We went to collect my bike and gear bags; I ate the pizza and I thought it was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life! As we walked back to the hotel I was in a daze.

My finishing time of 15:42 had been a little disappointing…on the other hand, I had just completed an Ironman. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. When I got back, I checked my phone and was truly humbled to see the number of messages from friends. So many of them had been live tracking my progress online throughout the day and had already sent their congratulations.

So there it is. Done.

I’m at the end of my year long journey, or could that be the start of something new?

I used to say I would never attempt an Ironman. Then I said I’d only ever do one. During the marathon in Whistler, I was sure I would never do this again.

But I know I can do better…next time?

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Race Reports, Triathlon

Memories of my First Ever Triathlon – Kelowna Apple Triathlon 2012

I’m not sure what originally made me think that triathlon would be a good thing to do. I had recently attempted to return to running and was having the usual recurring injuries and problems, so I was looking for something different.

Triathlon: Swim – Bike – Run. I can do those three things, maybe I can do a triathlon.

I didn’t jump right in. That first year I just volunteered.

A few hours of standing and cheering, watching people achieving their own goals, convinced me that I ought to be able to do this too. The seed was sown.

The following year I signed up for a training clinic advertised on the Kelowna Apple Triathlon website. As I walked into the first session I was absolutely terrified, it really took all of my willpower not to turn and run crying in the other direction! Everyone seemed to be so fit and confident…and then there was me.

I am so glad I stuck it out though, despite being possibly one of the least talented athletes Chris has ever worked with, and certainly the slowest in this group by far, I made some friends that I still train with today.

Over those eight weeks I swam in the lake for the first time, and the Knox mountain hill, after a few abortive attempts, went from absolutely impossible to “I might just make it”. I agonized and discussed all of the details, what to do when, what to wear and how to put the whole thing together. It seemed like I was capable of more than I had given myself credit for.

As the event drew near I took a deep breath and, with the encouragement of my new found friends, instead of signing up for the try-a-tri event as I had timidly indicated on day one, I registered for the Sprint distance. There was no backing out now!

The day before the race we met as a group to check out the course, and went for a swim in the lake, my previous swims had all been at the nice sandy Gyro swim loop where the bottom was mostly visible at all times, Tugboat Bay is not like that, it’s deep and full of weeds and once again I was terrified – what had I done? Could I back out?

Luckily those friends talked me down, and I’m so glad that they did.

Race day arrived and I woke up early and headed to the event with plenty of time. I had my race number written on my arm and legs and headed into transition. I looked around at the rows of beautiful and expensive bikes, then looked at my trusty mountain bike, I felt so out of place. But I needn’t have done, everyone was very friendly. I set up my tiny transition area, checked it again and again, and headed down to the start.

Lining up at the start I felt surprisingly relaxed, having already made a decision to just have fun and not worry about how fast or slow I was going. Suddenly we were off.

I ran into the lake and started swimming, focusing on my stroke and maintaining a consistent pace. Eventually, the beach loomed and I jogged out of the water and into transition. Part one done! I pulled on my shoes, grabbed my bike and headed out of the transition area. A couple of weeks ago I had attempted to ride the bike course (just to make sure) and had found the first hill to be very hard, almost impossible, but today I rode up it slowly but steadily. I can’t tell you how glad I was to get to the top!

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Two laps later, and I was on the run…I was running! I didn’t manage to run the entire 5km, but it didn’t matter, when I saw the finish line coming into view, the feeling of accomplishment was amazing.

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I’m a triathlete?

Apple 2012 cert

Since that day in 2012, I’ve completed 12 more triathlons and even signed up for Ironman!

Turns out I love triathlon and I’m improving all the time.

(and for the record, that hill on Knox mountain that was once impossible, is now just another little hill…meh!)

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Musings, Race Reports

Testing the Waters

I joined the Okanagan Masters Swim Club two years ago, after my first triathlon, and with a view to swimming across Okanagan lake.

I had watched the masters sessions from the public lanes for a few weeks before I was convinced to give it a go (thanks Jeanette). I was sure I wasn’t good enough, I mean, these guys were Masters afterall.

That first session ended with a set of sprints:

“Just dive off the blocks and sprint 50m down the pool”

10 times.

“Can I run away?”

Oh these people are so fit, they would probably catch me anyway.

I was so scared!

Blocks, dive sprint….

I had never successfully dived (and some might say that’s still true), much less of starting blocks. And sprint? 50m was such a long way.

What on earth was I thinking, I’ll just slip off back to my safe public lane……

Well, you probably guessed that I did it…

Very badly!

My fastest sprint was around 66 seconds and my best dive could possibly, if one were very charitable, be better defined as a flop.

But I didn’t die…and the only way was up.

That summer I did swim across the lake, and it turned out I rather enjoyed open water swimming.

Fast forward to today and I’m still there, still slow, but we are a ‘seriously social’ swim club and it’s (nearly) always fun.

“So, when are you going to enter a swim meet?”

Oh probably…Never.

I’m too slow

I can’t dive (still)

I can’t turn

Did I mention how slow I am?

Theres so many technical rules

Its too exposed, in a lane on my own…it’s just TOO SCARY

I’ll just volunteer, we need volunteers right?

Recently the club President had asked me what needed to happen to encourage me to enter a meet.

Oh, so many things: Dives, turns….etc etc… I’d probably enter the next one…

He probably didn’t realise that in that moment I made a scary promise, that I would now be honour-bound (if only in my own head) to keep.

All too fast, a couple of months later, chatting in the hot tub after practise (I only swim so that I can sit in the hot tub afterwards), my friend tells me that there is a meet in a couple of weeks…I should enter.

Emergency, emergency! Sirens started going off in my brain.

They had an encouraging answer to all of my reservations – Masters is very inclusive.

And I signed up for my first swim meet.

I’d spent some time working on my dives and turns over Christmas, so whilst still a long way from technically perfect, they were slightly less of a gamble.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all

O woke up on the day to find it had snowed overnight, thus followed a nerve-wracking hour of driving along the highway to Vernon. A spin around half way really got my heart-rate up and did nothing to improve my stress level.

I bumped into my team mates just outside the pool, further ensuring that I couldn’t run away. We changed and headed poolside. As we checked the heat sheets, I felt totally out of my depth, a fish out of water – this is probably how these idioms originated!

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Everyone jumped into the water to warm up, I hung back, maybe they won’t realise I’m an imposter.

I tested a couple of dives and turns, which seemed to go quite well, I felt slightly better.

The first event was 400m freestyle.

As I stood shaking on the starting blockone of my teammates shouted my name – I hoped I wouldn’t let them down or do a spectacularly bad dive in front of everyone. I decided to just aim to complete this first race.

The whistle went, deep breath, dive.

That was OK…now, swim.

Here comes the wall, deep breath, turn.

Still OK…keep swimming…I’m going too fast, that’s bad, but I can slow down, not a crisis.

Wall again, deep breath, turn…

…and crisis!

The turn didn’t go well, I came off the wall at the wrong angle, and I took breath that consisted largely of water…keep swimming, slow down.

Can’t breathe

I tried swimming slower, breathing deeper, I swam with my head up for a bit, but I couldn’t get it back. I couldn’t stop (actually I was later informed that I could have stopped to catch my breath and then continued).

The realisation hit me – this isn’t going to work.

And so, in the first event of my first ever swim meet, I recorded the first DNF of my life.

My teammates were very supportive, but it felt like I’d proved that I shouldn’t be there. I consoled myself with the fact that the next event was unlikely to go worse than that, the only way was up!

There was a short break before my next event, 50m breaststroke. This was the event had been most worried about; I was worried that getting my stroke wrong could get me disqualified.

In the event it was fine, I concentrated hard on getting my stroke right. I could hear my teammates cheering, which made me smile. As I came to the wall I saw Brent there, encouraging me.

Don’t screw this up now

Two hands together…and go.

It felt really good. My time of 56:25, whist not groundbreaking in the slightest, was the fastest I have ever recorded. Not so long ago, a 50m breaststroke sprint was nearly impossible for me, so definitely an improvement.

100m freestyle came next. I was still jittery about those turns. I made the first one, but then my nerves go the better of me, I decided to err on the side of caution and finished the race with touch turns. I was definitely getting tired by the second 50m but I kept pushing on.

1:42:85, I’ll take that.

50m freestyle, I’ve already proved I can do this, just need to do it again.

47:88, cool, that’s quite a bit under a minute.

So all in all, the day turned around pretty well. Thanks to my OMSC teammates for their support… and for refraining from laughing (at least whilst I was in the room).

It’s clear I won’t be breaking any records in the foreseeable future, but that’s OK, we are a seriously social swim club after all.

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This is my Blog!

Welcome to my blog.

I have decided to create this space to store and share my thoughts, opinions and experiences on my journey to better fitness and health.

I was definitely not one of the athletic kids when I was young. I dabbled in some different sports, but I never found success – I just wasn’t that good at anything.

I now know that I was merely lacking the motivation, patience and education to really succeed. I was trying to run before I could walk and getting discouraged when it didn’t work, especially when everyone else around me seemed to do it with ease.  To be fair, I still do.

It would be years after I left school that I learned to run, and still more before it became anything resembling natural for me.

I moved to the beautiful Okanagan from the UK in 2006. The climate finally encouraged me outside and I tried running. Running was like torture, but I had made a goal of completing a marathon; I developed shin splints and had to cut back. I did complete that marathon, walking, maybe I will tell you about that one day, if we encounter a slow news week.

As I got older I practiced more intelligently and had the understanding to persevere more, however much I didn’t want to. As time passed, the mental side of training started to get easier, and as I slowly (Oh so slowly!) got fitter the physical side got more rewarding as well. Maybe I had been wrong for the past 30 years, perhaps this was something I could do after all.

I entered my first triathlon in 2012 and was hooked: Three sports in one was perfect for my short attention span and the forced cross training meant my legs hurt less. I found some good friends and excellent coaches who continue to motivate and inspire me to achieve my potential – even if I have no idea what that could be, and probably never will.

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Now I am armed with knowledge and support and I’m excited to see what I can achieve. Come and join me on this somewhat athletic adventure…

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